Adverbs and Adjectives


That's the grim reaper. He'll come to get you for using too many adjectives and adverbs.

Just kidding! The picture is for a story I'm about to tell you. But if it also scares you into not overusing adjectives and adverbs, that will be an added bonus.

So here's the story:

I was in eighth grade, sitting in Earth Science behind a kid named Jim. It was Halloween. Jim was dressed like the guy in the picture above, and he had this cool skull mask that would look like it was dripping blood if you moved it around. Of course, students couldn't wear masks in my school, so Jim was just carrying this around with him and showing it to everyone.

Sitting next to Jim was Aubrey. Aubrey was beautiful and popular. She was a cheerleader. Like all the really popular kids in my school, she wasn't wearing a costume.

From where I sat behind them, I saw this exchange:

Jim, holding the mask in front of Aubrey and rocking it so it looked like blood was dripping down: "Look at my mask!"

Aubrey: "Ewwww! Gross! Get that away from me!"

Jim: "You don't like gross things?"

Aubrey: "No!"

Jim: "Then you wouldn't have liked the movie I watched last night. It was so gross!"

Aubrey: "Ewww! Stop!"

Jim: "It was so GORY, and DISGUSTING. There was BLOOD and GUTS and you probably would have been SICK!"

Aubrey, covering her ears with her hands: "Yuck! You're so gross! Stop!"

Now, as I was listening to the two of them, I noticed something. Maybe you've noticed it too. Nothing Jim was saying was actually gross. Aubrey was playing along and pretending to be grossed out, but the truth was, Jim hadn't said anything to her that was remotely disgusting.

Because here's the thing: DETAILS make a vivid description. ADJECTIVES are a way to SKIP the description. So if you want to give us a strong description, give us details.

Which is a more powerful description:

A. It was so GORY, and DISGUSTING. There was BLOOD and GUTS and you probably would have been SICK!

or

B. There was a pile of fingers in the center of the table.

Which of those descriptions caused a stronger emotional response?

DETAILS make for vivid descriptions. ADJECTIVES are a way to skip description. But note! Sometime skipping a description is what you want to do! Notice above I said "Aubrey was beautiful and popular". I didn't want to take time to describe her hair or her nose or how many friends she had. I just wanted you to know she was pretty and popular so we could move on with the story. THAT'S when you use adjectives).

Now for adverbs. My thoughts on adverbs are pretty similar, but the fix is slightly different: If you want to describe an action vividly, USE STRONG VERBS. Strong verbs can often replace a weak verb and an adverb. For example:

Jim walked hurriedly across the courtyard.

vs.

Jim scurried across the courtyard.

Jim thought angrily about the conversation.

vs.

Jim fumed about the conversation.